132 Megalithic Temples of Malta – 1980



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Seven megalithic temples are found on the islands of Malta and Gozo, each the result of an individual development. The two temples of Ggantija on the island of Gozo are notable for their gigantic Bronze Age structures. On the island of Malta, the temples of Hagar Qim, Mnajdra and Tarxien are unique architectural masterpieces, given the limited resources available to their builders. The Ta’Hagrat and Skorba complexes show how the tradition of temple-building was handed down in Malta.

Brief synthesis

The (Ġgantija, Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra, Skorba, Ta’ Ħaġrat and Tarxien) are prehistoric monumental buildings constructed during the 4th millennium BC and the 3rd millennium BC. They rank amongst the earliest free-standing stone buildings in the world and are remarkable for their diversity of form and decoration. Each complex is a unique architectural masterpiece and a witness to an exceptional prehistoric culture renowned for its remarkable architectural, artistic and technological achievements.

Each monument is different in plan, articulation and construction technique. They are usually approached from an elliptical forecourt in front of a concave façade. The façade and internal walls consist of upright stone slabs, known as orthostats, surmounted by horizontal blocks. The surviving horizontal masonry courses indicate that the monuments had corbelled roofs, probably capped by horizontal beams. This method of construction was a remarkably sophisticated solution for its time. The external walls are usually constructed in larger blocks set alternately face out and edge out, tying the wall securely into the rest of the building. The space between the external wall and the walls of the inner chambers is filled with stones and earth, binding the whole structure together.

Typically, the entrance to the building is found in the centre of the façade, leading through a monumental passageway onto a paved court. The interiors of the buildings are formed of semi-circular chambers usually referred to as apses, symmetrically arranged on either side of the main axis. The number of apses varies from building to building; some have three apses opening off the central court, whilst others have successive courts with four, five, and in one case even six apses.

The temple builders used locally available stone of which they had a thorough knowledge. They used hard coralline limestone for external walls and the softer globigerina limestone for the more sheltered interiors and decorated elements.

Decorated features found within the buildings bear witness to a high level of craftsmanship. These elements consist mainly of panels decorated with drilled holes and bas-relief panels depicting spiral motifs, trees, plants and various animals. The form and layout of these buildings, as well as the artefacts found within them, suggest they were an important ritual focus of a highly organized society. 

Criterion (iv):

The are remarkable not only because of their originality, complexity and striking massive proportions, but also because of the considerable technical skill required in their construction. 

Integrity

All six components of the property are in a reasonably good state of conservation, although the Tarxien complex is less well preserved than the others. All their key attributes are within the boundaries of the property. Surviving vestiges attest to the techniques used in the building of these complex structures, and the knowledge and skill of the people who built them. However, the structures are vulnerable to both material and structural deterioration, so research continues to be conducted to identify preservation strategies for the buildings. 

Authenticity

The six components of the property have a high level of authenticity. They consist of well-preserved remains of megalithic temples, with evidence of different phases of construction in Antiquity. The components have been recorded in travel accounts since Early Modern times, while photographic records of some components go back to the early 1900s. Various restoration interventions have been carried out on five of the six components since their excavation. These included moving decorated blocks indoors to protect them from weathering, and capping the surviving blocks with cement. Current conservation interventions are guided by international standards, guidelines and charters. 

Protection and management requirements

All six temples are subject to the main legal instrument for the protection of cultural heritage resources in Malta, the Cultural Heritage Act (2002). This Act provides for and regulates national bodies for the protection and management of cultural heritage resources.

Building development and land use are regulated by the Environment and Development Planning Act (2010) and subsequent amendments), which provides for and regulates the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. Since land use is a highly contested issue in the Maltese islands, the safeguarding of the Megalithic Temples and their buffer zone through the careful regulation of building development is therefore an issue of fundamental concern.

Each temple is protected by a buffer zone. The components and their buffer zones are formally scheduled by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority as Grade A archaeological sites, which means they are subject to wide-ranging restrictions of building development. The application of these restrictions varies according to the local context. An important challenge is to establish more rigorous control aimed at mitigating visual impact caused by building development in the vicinity of the buffer zones.

A Management Plan has been drawn up for the inscribed property, which covers each temple and its buffer zone.

The physical conservation of the Megalithic Temples is an area of concern and is the subject of the 2006-2011 Conservation Plan, which established the general principles. The sites were excavated during the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, leaving them exposed to erosion by natural and human causes. Protective shelters are presently the most prudent and effective means available to slow down the deterioration processes that are eroding the monuments. Lightweight, removable protective covers have been implemented as an interim strategy to prolong the life of these buildings, while research continues to identify alternative long-term preservation strategies.

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